As I was preparing for this evening’s service and re reading the lessons we heard tonight, I found myself going back in time, to other Christmas’s past.
Perhaps this night we are each bringing our memories with us, not only the joy and thanksgiving for the birth of the Christ Child but also the realization that time itself has changed many things in our own personal lives and the world that we live in today. We too are facing vulnerability and instability…not unlike the world into which our Savior was born.
Luke’s gospel describes briefly the journey Joseph and Mary had to take from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There, he reports after they arrived, Mary gave birth to her first- born son and wrapped in him in bands of cloth (swaddling clothes) and laid him in a manager since there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke’s story of the Holy Family’s beginnings in Bethlehem serves as a back drop for what I would like to explore briefly before we race to the celestial birth announcements and those who come to worship this wondrous child.
The creative artists around us often provide perspectives that open up our own appreciation for what might not be “recorded” but most certainly brings us to a deeper appreciation and perhaps even meaning to significant moments in history, like the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
Two artists came to my attention recently that offered a reflective moment that might enhance our appreciation, our appreciation for the intimacy of the Christ Child’s birth and the vulnerability surrounding the event, this event that would come to change the world. The first is from a writer of prose and poetry whose many here are familiar with , and the second is an unknown painter whose work I recently viewed.
The writer Madeleine l’Engle, offers a poem which feels like a meditation that could deepen our view of this intimate and vulnerable time of Jesus’ birth. (all births are intimate and vulnerable times)
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comment slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome,
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn
Yet, here did the Savior make his home.
When is the time for love to be born? (she asks)
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet, love still takes the risk of birth. 
If we were to study this poem, as in Lectio Divina for scripture, we would review it again to find the word or phrase that we felt the Holy Spirit impressed upon us. It might be the word “time” that is repeated--This is no time for a child to be born, or When is the time for love to be born. Or, perhaps the word Savior even though only written once, it might leap out and cause us pause to reflect.
For me, having the opportunity to go over this poem a few times, unlike you here this evening, I found the Madeline l’Engle’s use of the word LOVE
brought to center stage so many relevant thoughts and feelings: was this love the movement or motivation that drove the Divine to act and was this what Mary and Joseph discovered when they each said YES to the Divine’s request?
This is a love so profound that even the several “kinds of love” in Greek don’t even come close. God took the risk of birth to become embodied as a human being and become part of a human family –a poor, vulnerable human family in an occupied country. This is something that the mind alone cannot comprehend.
This kind of love seems indescribable in our terms and perhaps even more difficult to truly accept: that we human beings, knowing what we are really like, are worthy of this gift! God giving God’s self to show us the way, the way of real, true love, of love eternal. That is humbling!
The second artist’s work by an unknown painter, appeared on a Christmas letter I received from New Zealand. It was a rendering of a scene that the artist must have imagined occurred shortly after the baby Jesus was born and before the angels began sharing the good news to the shepherds and visitors started flocking to see this special child in the humble surroundings of a stable.
The artist depicted Mary dozing peacefully after giving birth to her son and sitting facing next to her was Joseph with his legs stretched out protectively and he held in his arms, the new born Jesus.
I stopped, before even reading my friend’s letter for I found myself seeing something that could have happened but was never considered/recorded. Mary had just given birth to her first- born child and we know that would not have been easy for either mother nor child in the best of circumstances, let along in a stable. I suspect Joseph’s support was critical and comforting. She is asleep in the picture, no doubt exhausted yet knowing that for now, she and her son are safe.
Baby Jesus is cradled in the arms of Joseph, whose gaze is filled with tenderness and quiet joy. It appears that Jesus is looking right back at him as if a new intimate relationship is being formed to add one to the one he already had with his mother. This is the beginning of a family, a Holy Family.
Soon the world that surrounds them would break through this quiet, tender and intimate time. Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord announced to shepherds in a field nearby, that a child was born for them and for ALL People, who is the Messiah, the promised Savior. Bright lights shone and the shepherds were frightened but they were told not to be afraid, a phrase that was often repeated by angels (and later by Jesus to his frightened followers when he appeared to them after his resurrection).
There will be other visitors to Bethlehem described by Matthew and they too will be guided to the stable to see for themselves this wonderous child. But for now, to night, it is enough for each of us to know and accept that the
Word was made flesh and Jesus came to us all, as a gift of love.
Our task is to accept this gift of love, trusting as Mary and Joseph did that although we too live in troubling times, we are not to be afraid for we are not alone, God is always with us. Immanuel, we say! For love took the risk of birth and this we know also as a paradox and promise—Christ will come again! AMEN
 Madeleine l’Engle, The Weather of the Heart.